Asking to do stories for freelance outlets is called “QUERYING”. It’s where you tell an editor about the story you want to do and convince him or her to let you write it instead of taking your idea and assigning it to someone else.
My process with a new publication was usually to call first and ask if they took freelance work. It often gave me a chance to talk directly with an editor and convince him or her of my education and experience before I ever had to pitch my story to him or her. If you don’t get an editor directly when calling, be sure to get their email information from whoever you are speaking to so you can contact them directly with your idea.
Query letters for news stories aren’t overly complicated; you pitch the story in the first paragraph, elaborate on it and on yourself in the second, and close with a request that the editor reply back so you can get started on the story. Depending on how complex your story is a to how complex the email is. Be sure to follow grammar and conventional letter writing features–everyone talks about email being more casual, but that casualness is reserved for when you already have a relationship established. In your first few queries, you want to keep everything very professional so the editor will take you seriously. No text abbreviations, no LOLs, nothing that would indicate that you aren’t the best writer for the particular story you are pitching.
If you have previous writing that’s on the web, include those URL’s in your initial query letter. That gives the editor a chance to look and see what kind of writer you are. If all you have is a blog, provide links to it. It’s probably best to provide links to specific posts that relate to the story you are pitching to show your expertise in the area you are asking to write about Don’t feel bad if you are offered to write unpaid at first. This practice has become standard, sadly. Use those first few articles to land a better paying outlet somewhere else. Some publications welcome citizen bloggers and give them space on their website to blog. That’s a good opportunity too to increase your reach as a blogger.
IT’s best to start small. Don’t write your first query to HuffPo or some equivalent national publication. Start with your local outlets and branch out from there. I would up writing for about ten different publications with local, statewide, and regional reach. Always tailor your story to the outlet. Think of different ways to spin the story so maybe you can sell variations of the information to different outlets at the same time. NEVER sell the same exact story to multiple outlets at the same time. And don’t start writing the story until you’ve sold it through a query–save yourself the time and effort beforehand.
Next time I’ll talk about conducting interviews and gathering information for the story. Keep reading!